The Royal Wedding of July 1986

By Dan Cranefield, Senior Engineering Manager, BBC Tel OBs

I was the Senior Engineering Manager in charge of all the technical arrangement for the Wedding and in charge of the main site at Westminster Abbey, working to the main Producer, Tim Marshall.

I was the logical choice for this role as I was the technical EM for all programmes at the Abbey at that time. However, all the other remote sites were individually organised by the appropriate site Directors in association with each site’s Engineering Manager. These other sites were Canada Gate, by Buckingham Palace and Admiralty Arch in The Mall, with a few individual cameras fed back to the hub via radio links. The complicated communications required were organised by Mike Jordan of Tel OBs Communications Department.

The “hub” vehicles, comprising scanners, a sound mixing vehicle, videotape vehicles, communications vehicles and generators for vehicles and lighting were parked on temporary portable roadway panels to protect the Abbey’s grassland and parked adjacent to the North Door of the Abbey.

Normally, such an important and complicated programme would make use of, as the main hub, the Central Colour Mobile Control Room (CMCCR), which had facilities for the large number of cameras and remote video and sound circuits needed but this vehicle was unavailable because it was required to be at the Commonwealth Games at the same time. It was decided that the only vehicle which might be able to accommodate such a complex programme as a Royal Wedding was the first of the new Type 6 scanners which was not then even complete, and, I believe, due to go to Wales for its first months of operation.

The advantages of the type 6 scanner over the current type 5 scanners were that the production area was a little wider and the monitor stack could also be extended outwards by about a foot so there would be space available to accommodate an extra row of small monitors in front of the production desk. The Producer needed to be able to see pictures from all the local cameras and all the remote sites individually.

Although the type 6 had no cameras of its own installed, Abbey cameras all being operated from the adjacent type 5 scanner, the vehicle was effectively still being “brought into operation” because the engineers on the “crew” were from the Planning and Installation Department, but with help from our engineers. They all did an excellent job; the arrangement worked very well and the programme ran very smoothly with no major hiccups.

There was a certain amount of controversy, though, beforehand because one of the commentary and camera positions was on the triangular island in front of the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre on the other side of Broad Sanctuary, the main road via which the royal procession would approach the West Door of the Abbey. Cabling was required to feed this position, so, by negotiation with builders who already had a lot of scaffolding surrounding the Middlesex Guildhall, now the Supreme Court, I requested a scaffold bridge be erected across the road to carry all the necessary cables from the scanner to this site. This did not go down well with the hierarchy nor Buckingham Palace because the royal procession, including the queen, would have to pass under it, a security problem. They were also concerned about the visual impact so it was painted dark green. However, a photo from the high camera position, including my scaffold bridge, was put on the cover of the BBC Transmitting Stations booklet issued the following year, so it obviously was not too intrusive.

Because of this controversy, shortly after the programme I was requested by BBC Events to organise a duct to be installed under the road so that this problem would not occur again. This I duly did and involved a number of site visits and negotiations with Westminster Council, the Gas Board, The Electricity Board, British Telecom and others, all of whom seemed unsure as to exactly where their assets were positioned! I was also informed by LUL that the brick arch over the District Line tracks was only 18 inches below the road surface, so, when the gas board said they had a 3ft diameter gas main going across the road I was a touch sceptical! Whether this duct ever received any use afterwards I do not know.

© Dan Cranefield 2019